Harvest Bounty & Winter Treats!

Harvest Bounty & Winter Treats!

I learned many things from my paternal grandmother, “Nona Renie” (see photo), who was a constant, calm and peaceful presence throughout my childhood. One of the most practical things she taught me was how to prepare various foods for the bounty of the summer harvest to last through the winter as well, and I still use her recipes just as she taught them to me, to this day.

Sun-Dried Tomatoes

These are a well-known delicacy throughout the Mediterranean, but I insist that there is something very special about the tomatoes that grow in my garden and dry in the Ionian sun. To prepare them, all you need to do is cut them in half length-wise, and lay them out in a tray or shallow basket. Τhen sprinkle them with coarse sea-salt and put them out in the sun, but bring them in at night so they don’t spoil due to humidity. When ready, place them in a jar filled with olive oil, where they can last for years (if refrigerated, then you can omit the oil). Any dish you use them in (when tomatoes are called for!) doesn’t need extra salt. It’s a great way to have the flavours and scent of summer sun in the depths of winter!

Home-made raisins

Shop-bought raisins just can’t compare to either the flavour or scent of home-made ones. Especially if you have your own vines, or even if you don’t, all you need to do is purchase a few kilos of juicy, white, seedless grapes towards the end of August. Wash well, and then put a layer of kitchen-towel in the bottom of a large, shallow basket, spread the grapes on top, and put them out in the sun. Make sure you remember to cover the baskets with a layer of nettiing/toulle, because otherwise you will have insects, especially wasps, attacking the grapes. When you bring them in at night, shake the basket gently from side to side to ensure they don’t stick. When ready, use jamjars to store them and you’ll have delicious raisins for every use!

Fig-cakes

One of the most tasty Corfiot delicacies! Fig-cakes are made out of pure, dried figs. First wash them well, and dry with paper towels. Then sprinkle them with ouzo and aniseed. Then cut them open, and lay them out on a metal tray to dry (3-4 days). Cover them with netting/toulle to keep insects away, and put them out in the sun.

First drying stage

When they’re ready, put them in the blender, and add ouzo and fresh grape juice from black/red grapes (that has first been brought to the boil for 5 minutes). The amount of ouzo and juice you use depends on the number of figs and how many cakes you want to make. Add the juice and ouzo a little at a time, until the mixture is thick enough to mould and keep its shape. Empty the mixture out onto the kitchen surface or some other clean surface, add some walnuts or peeled almonds and fennel seeds to the mix, and (optionally) some red pepper. Shape the mixture into small patties. Then, take large fig leaves or walnut leaves, wash well and dip in ouzo (to disinfect). Wrap the patties in the leaves, and tie string around them to hold them in place. Put them back out in the sun, turning every day or so for a few more days, and then store them in the fridge. Try it… you’ll remember me!

Second stage: The freshly made fig-cakes before putting them out in the sun for 2-3 more days.

Ziziphus

Ziziphus berries on the tree

Ziziphus berries (Ziziphus zizyphus) are a Chinese fruit that are also quite widespread in Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean. The raw, crunchy fruit has a delicate flavour, and is often used in sweets and jams. Apart from being tasty, they also contain very useful enzymes. Like with the other fruits, I prefer to preserve them the natural way, and then enjoy them as a winter snack!

The procedure is as follows. After washing the berries well, place them in boiling water for a minute and a half, and then drain. Then place them on a tray or in a basket, after sprinkling with ouzo and fennel seeds and mixing them in with the berries.

Then place them out in the sun for about five days (bringing them in at night due to humidity).

I prefer to use oven trays instead of baskets for the zizyphus, because the heat radiated by the metal speeds up the drying process. If the weather changes (because it can be changeable in late August), then put them in the oven for as long as necessary instead.

Ziziphus ready for drying!!

Some people may wonder why, in this day and age I bother with all these things, especially since, as you will see for yourselves, each of these recipes demands quite a lot of preparation, and we can find most of these goods at a health-food store.

Apart from the fact that, when I feel mentally and spiritually tired, the only thing that I really find restful is to occupy myself with something productive and useful, and therefore enjoyable, and of course, hugely rewarding! In addition, when I do this at the end of each summer, I remember my adored Nona Renie, who taught me so many things in her gentle, simple way!

May we all enjoy the summer harvest all through the winter!

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